Let’s say we are now trauma aware, trauma-informed.
I think it best to make sure we all consider what it is and is not and with the same background knowledge. But I am going to narrow the scope here so let’s all assume we are talking about school age children in the school setting.
- Trauma is defined as an unexpected event, with an unprepared person and there is nothing in that person’s power to stop it. This means trauma could be from personal or family event, or from something that has happened at school. And sadly, those of us in schools are sometimes the source of the trauma. Think restraint and seclusion.
- Those who have been traumatized are at risk of being re-traumatized. No matter the original trauma.
- PTSD can present in three ways. The student may relive the trauma over and over. Smells, sounds, images, physical sensations are triggers. The student is in often in a state of avoidance. These student is emotionally numb, they withdraw, they don’t attach. The student experiences increased arousal and is hypervigilent, might have trouble sleeping and staying asleep, have an exaggerated startle response and is probably quite irritable.
- Traumatized students will experience the effects in all stages of development, in day to day activities and have trouble with interpersonal relationships. They experience mental and physical health problems. They are most likely anxious and depressed. And often times those effects are more challenging and quality of life threatening than the actual traumatic event.
When we consider the above information, could it be any more clear that we have a responsibility to provide trauma-informed care to our students who have suffered trauma? I hope not. I hope you are with me on this.
Those of you who read this blog with any regularity or have contracted professional services from my business, Knapsack Consulting, LLC, know that I believe we can do best by our students if we are mindful and deliberate in our use of common sense, compassion and critical thinking.
And that is how we provide trauma-informed care to our students. With commonsense, compassion and critical thinking. It’s not always easy. Actually it is rarely easy. One has to be very aware of every variable in their student’s school day. And knowing we cannot control outside of our own circle of influence, we have to be at the ready to be therapeutic when needed.
As teachers, I think we have to help our students learn how to self-regulate. You don’t teach this in a vacuum or only when the student is in a bad way. And there is no one strategy that works for every kiddo. We all self-regulate in our own ways and as the adults, it is on us to figure what is worth a try.
We have to work diligently at helping our students communicate their needs and wants. They deserve to be heard and much of our work here is convincing them that they are worth helping, that their wants and needs deserve to be honored.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to help our traumatized students find ways to self-sooth. And just as with self-regulation, we have to find what works for them. This might take longer than you want and some of what you ask them to try may indeed trigger the trauma response. It’s trial and error, but if you really listen to your student, and pay attention to past triggers, you will figure it out.
Kids who have experienced trauma often lack trust in themselves. How can they trust their perceptions, their ability to keep themselves safe? This is a real challenge. It requires much patience, repeated reassurance and pointing out, in the moment, when your student made a good call. We have to look for and affirm every single time our students make safe decisions about who to be with and where to be. This is one effect of trauma that may never be overcome. Self-trust.
We have to help our students understand how to set limits and honor boundaries. Kids who have experienced trauma have trouble setting limits, understanding boundaries and figuring out appropriate ways to interact. It’s easy to understand why. Their trauma was most likely inflicted by someone not honoring limits and boundaries. And the younger the kiddo, I believe, the harder to help them develop a strong sense of limits and boundaries.
When we objectively observe our students’ responses to stress and eliminate the triggers, we are using nothing more than common sense. There is an angry snake in the corner, don’t poke it. There is a traumatized kiddo under his desk, don’t drag him out. Understand he is under there because that is how he feels safe.
When we validate, respect, nurture, empower our students we are using ever-powerful compassion. Kindness and compassion are the heart of it. Without it, no progress toward healing will happen.
When we observe keenly, understand maladaptive behaviors are coping responses, analyze the variables in the environment and how our students may respond, we are using critical thinking.
Be mindful. Be aware. Acknowledge the impact of trauma.